Tuesday 20 October 2009 by Mel Hunt. 1 comment
Collection Highlights

The Memorial’s Research Centre holds over 900 First World War German Official and Regimental Histories in its Published Collection. These extensive holdings of rare German language histories are mainly due to the foresight and enthusiasm of Capt. J. J. Herbertson who was instrumental in the collection of these titles over the period 1922-1937.

A view of some of the 900 plus German histories held in the stacks. A view of some of the 900 plus German histories held in the stacks.

A selection of German Regimental histories from the Published Collection. A selection of German Regimental histories from the Published Collection.

Official record series AWM47 provides the best context for Herbertson's work in its series description. AWM47, 1914-18 war information obtained from Germany for the Australian Official War Historian is a small series of mostly German records, which Herbertson was employed to locate and translate:

"At the suggestion of the Director of the War Memorial (Major J L Treloar) and the Official Historian (C E W Bean) arrangements were made in January 1923, by the Prime Minister's Department through the High Commissioner's Office in London, to engage Captain J J W Herbertson to collect certain information from German sources. This was required to complete the war records in the Australian War Memorial Library.

In 1916-17, Herbertson had been an intelligence officer attached to 1st Anzac Corps. In the 1920's he was Political Officer for the British Department of the Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission at Coblenz. Herbertson acknowledges the willing assistance of the German authorities, especially Herr Archivrat Stenger of the Reichsarchives in Potsdam".

Official Record AWM47 Series Description

A selection of Regimental Histories held in the Published Collection. A selection of Regimental Histories held in the Published Collection.
Herbertson took his task of collecting so seriously that in addition to collecting the records which later became Official Records Series AWM47 he was:

"also responsible for arranging the acquisition of a number of German publications for the War Memorial Library".

This is why the Research Centre is lucky enough to hold such a large and almost complete collection of First World War German language Official and Regimental Histories.

The histories which include German official histories and German, Bavarian, Prussian and Saxon unit histories can be located on our books database using the following subject searches:

World War, 1914-1918 - Regimental histories - Germany.; (870 books)

Unit histories, German.; (957 books)

Official histories, German.; (43 books)

It seems from official files that whilst conducting his research at the German archives for information to translate and send back to C.E.W. Bean to assist him in completing the Australian First World War Official Histories, Herbertson initially contacted individual German booksellers to ask for their assistance in supplying relevant titles for the Memorial. This quickly shifted to a more formal arrangement for the supply of books which Herbertson arranged through Mr. Hume, the Military Attache in Berlin – to whom the Memorial supplied a schedule of subjects to guide selection of relevant titles.

German Regimental history for 474 Infantry Regiment. German Regimental history for 474 Infantry Regiment.

Initial notations by Bean on correspondence files; suggest that we were initially only interested in collecting those histories which directly related to "fighting in which our troops were involved" (6.4.1923). Later file references by Treloar indicate we had broadened our collecting approach and were looking at "obtaining all German unit histories" (21.1.1931) but also indicates there was some internal debate over whether we should be collecting complete or partial sets of German histories. Once the decision had been made to collect complete sets, the work continued well into the 1930’s and by February 1937 much of the work was complete:

"After repeated attempts through official channels had failed to procure certain German regimental histories which we were desirous of obtaining to complete the set in our library, we took action through a German living in Australia... as a result we have obtained many of the missing histories" (8.2.1937).

AWM93 12/4/11 PART2

These titles are invaluable to researchers seeking sources which detail the perspective of operations against Australian troops from the German point of view.


Official Record AWM47 Series Description

AWM93 12/4/11 PART1 and AWM93 12/4/11 PART2


Craig Tibbitts says:

Thanks for a very interesting and informative post Mel. As a frequent user I very much appreciate having this collection so close at hand, and it's also great that it's available to the public in Australia. It really is quite amazing that the Memorial has such a large and comprehensive collection of these volumes, I believe one of the best in any library in the world. If you work on the principle of about 750 German infantry regiments (i.e. 3 regiments x 250 divisions), plus a few hundred more of artillery and cavalry, it's a fair claim that with around 900 volumes, we do indeed have a pretty comprehensive collection. Of course there are some we don't have, but I consider myself pretty unlucky if I can't find one I'm looking for. The quality does vary among them quite a bit. Sometimes the detail is excellent and there are personal accounts included for certain actions, and sometimes there is disappointingly little. Some common themes among them include: * Some can be conspicuously light on detail, particularly for battles they lose. Natural enough I suppose, but I think the Allies tend to examine their defeats in more detail and with a different attitude than the Germans who sometimes seemed in denial. * Almost to the point of 'ad nauseum' , many German histories tend deny the concept that the Allied soldiers beat them man for man. Instead, they frequently point to the overwhelming 'material power' of the Allies, i.e. artillery, tanks, aircraft etc, as the reason why they were defeated, both in individual engagements and the war as a whole. * There is a tendency to labour the heroism and sacrifice of the individual German soldier. Of course Allied histories did that as well (and still do) - but in my opinion the German ones really lay this on thick and perhaps in a more old-fashioned manner. Finally, for those wondering about 'Archivrat Stenger of the Reichsarchives in Potsdam', Archivrat means simply 'Archivist'. So the Reichsarchiv did not in fact have a rodent problem. While it didn't have Rat problem, it did have a RAF problem; in 1945 the Potsdam archive was totally destroyed by a bombing raid. Cheers, Craig Tibbitts Senior Curator Official & Private Records Research Centre Australian War Memorial